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Sony Xperia XZ2 review: Too much phone, too little value

Sony Xperia XZ2
(Image: © Android Central)

Our Verdict

Price: $699 on promotion ($799 MSRP)Bottom line: Sony has made a beautiful phone that fails to stand out in a very crowded smartphone market. Even at $699 unlocked, it doesn't offer great value.

For

  • Excellent performance
  • Sony's software impresses
  • Lovely design and solid all-glass construction
  • Camera takes great photos, even in low light, and dedicated shutter button is so, so useful
  • Sony's Dynamic Vibration Engine is super cool

Against

  • Sony's camera app feels slow and dated
  • Lacks software niceties like face unlock and fingerprint gestures
  • Phone is incredibly, disastrously slippery
  • Not available at U.S. carriers & no Verizon/Sprint support
  • It's very thick and heavy

It started not with a whimper but a bang. My first Xperia XZ2 unit had issues. So did a second. They were pre-production models, as many review units were, but I held off reviewing the phone until I knew I was using the same hardware and software that would ship to consumers.

I may not insist on that same handicap for other models, but the Xperia XZ2, like all Sony phones, needs a booster. They're at an inherent disadvantage — one of Sony's own making, mind you — because of lean distribution and, until recently, hardware limitations.

So when the Xperia XZ2 went on sale in April for $799, I knew I had to wait. The early adopters would pick it up anyway, but the masses, unsure what to do in a market awash in competitive devices, would likely sit. And wait.

Wait for the early bugs to be fixed. Wait for the inevitable price drop.

And now, in mid-June, we have our first major price drop, to $699 USD, along with a couple important bug fixes. Do these things make the Xperia XZ2 worthy of your time? And does it stand out in a very crowded market?

Sony Xperia XZ2 What's great

CategoryXperia XZ2
Operating SystemAndroid 8.0 Oreo
Display5.7-inch LCD, 2160x1080
Gorilla Glass 5
18:9 aspect ratio
ProcessorSnapdragon 845 64-bit
Adreno 630
ExpandablemicroSD up to 400GB
RAM4GB
Rear Camera19MP Exmor RS, hybrid AF
960FPS FHD slow-mo, 4K HDR video
Front Camera5MP f/2.2 23mm wide-angle
ConnectivityWi-Fi 802.11ac, Bluetooth 5.0 + LE , NFC, USB 3.1, GPS
Battery3180mAh
ChargingUSB-C
Quick Charge 3.0
Qnovo Adaptive Charging
Qi wireless charging
SoundStereo S-Force front speakers
Water resistanceIP68
SecurityRear fingerprint sensor
Dimensions153 x 72 x 11.1mm
Weight198 g
Network1.2Gbps (Cat18 LTE)
ColorsLiquid Black, Liquid Silver, Deep Green, Ash Pink
Price$699 (at publishing)

The Xperia XZ2, like the smaller XZ2 Compact (which I love), feels much more modern and inviting than its Z, X, or XZ predecessors (my goodness Sony has made a lot of phones in the past few years). The gentle curvature of the glass somewhat obscures a fairly stout frame, but it lends the phone an organic warmth that I really enjoy looking at.

Sony's always emphasized symmetry, sometimes to its detriment, but in a sea of notched and off-kilter smartphones, this one stands out as being deliberately even.

The 1080p display is elongated to a 2:1 aspect ratio, and while the panel won't win awards for fidelity, it hits the high marks of a flagship, including HDR10 support (on Netflix and Amazon Prime), and an array of color gamut tweaks to suit everyone's tastes.

The screen is bordered by slight, but very present, bezels, affording Sony the opportunity to improve its already-great S-Force stereo speakers. These speakers are incredible; they're loud and full for a smartphone, and don't distort at high volumes. They're exactly the kind of showcase one expects for a phone that promotes entertainment.

Sony's audio prowess extends to the headphone-wearing crowd, too. Despite lacking a headphone jack, Sony's audio settings are plentiful and diverse, with an array of manual equalizer options (including virtual surround sound options of dubious merit) that do make a difference.

While few are going to understand the differences between DSEE HX and ClearAudio+ — enabling one cancels out the other — anyone with a pair of wired or wireless headphones is going to get superb audio quality from this phone.

That Sony emphasizes marketing nonsense over actual hardware virtues — DSEE HX, which upconverts low-quality music streams to high-quality, is less enticing to me than a clean DAC and ultra-powerful amplifier, both of which are present here — is to its detriment, but the good news is that, absent headphone jack aside, this is an audiophile-friendly handset.

I'm also a big fan — and I seem to be largely alone here — of Sony's Dynamic Vibration Engine, the super-powerful haptic motor that pulses along to music, movies, and any other sound-producing content.

Sony's figured out that people want vibration motors that aren't just strong but accurate; this one is both.

It's not something I use all the time, but I tend to leave it on, especially if I'm cupping the phone in my hand to watch a movie trailer or Netflix show. Sure, it's less effective when paired with a low-key sitcom than a pulse-pounding episode of Luke Cage, but I'd rather have the option to turn it off than not have it at all.

Over the last few years, I've become increasingly sensitive to poor, sloppy phone haptics, and I'm delighted companies like Sony and LG are pushing the market into Apple-like territory. But just because a vibration motor is powerful doesn't necessarily mean it's agile, and thankfully this one is both, offering light, accurate touches when typing or receiving a notification.

The camera story is, like the phone's design, all about evolution. We have the same 19MP 1/2.3" IMX400 the company's been using for two years now — 1.22-micron pixels, ƒ/2.0 wider-than-normal lens — but the output is dramatically different thanks to a few good decisions by Sony.

First, the phone no longer uses its own processing engine, deferring instead to Qualcomm's excellent image signal processor inside the Snapdragon 845. Sony's also making it easier to capture a great shot, using its dedicated camera memory and fast processor to capture a burst of photos every time the shutter is pressed. When movement is detected, the gallery will offer a selection of four photos to choose from, and I usually found at least one good one in the bunch.

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The change works, though it's not a slam dunk. The robust manual mode tends to offer a better "auto" shooting experience than Sony's well-worn Superior Auto, which identifies the dominant theme of a particular scene (Backlight, Macro, Landscape, Document, Action) and adjusts accordingly. The phone makes smart decisions most of the time, but not every time, particularly in scenes with blown-out areas that require HDR, something Superior Auto is reluctant to apply.

It's not necessarily that the hardware is outmatched — the 1/2.3" sensor is larger than every phone camera on the market save the Huawei P20 Pro, though the ƒ/2.0 lens is somewhat a limiting factor and there's no OIS — but that Sony's camera app makes poor exposure decisions. Resulting photos are punchy and colorful but often darker than they need to be.

A couple low-light samples taken with the Sony Xperia XZ2.

In low-light situations, the Xperia XZ2 fares well, but is again outclassed by competitors like the Pixel 2 and P20 Pro. So why is this in the "What I like" column? Because in previous years, Sony wouldn't even be in the low-light conversation; now the XZ2 at least holds its own. I need to trust the camera in my pocket to give me a usable shot in almost any condition, and the Xperia XZ2 offers that.

Analyzing a low-light shot

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In the direst and darkest of conditions, the XZ2 performs well against what is arguably the most capable low-light camera on the market, the Huawei P20 Pro. I took this photo in near pitch-dark, and the XZ2 ramped up ISO to 12,800 with a shutter speed of 1/8, eking a fair amount of color and quite a bit of detail. The P20 Pro, on the other hand, takes things to ISO 25,600, but at a shutter speed of 1/10.

Huawei P20 Pro, 100% crop (left) | Xperia XZ2, 100% crop (right)

Huawei P20 Pro, 100% crop (left) | Xperia XZ2, 100% crop (right)

The P20 Pro is much less noisy despite an ISO twice as high, and it resolves considerably more detail, but the XZ2 excels, too. It also proves that, under the right conditions and with some patience, the Xperia XZ2 can be a consummate camera in low-light situations.

That confidence extends to the photo- and video-taking process, too. I love Sony's retention of the physical shutter button, and prefer it in almost every shooting scenario. Being able to quickly remove the XZ2 from my pocket with my finger already on the shutter key, camera app at the ready, is a user experience I miss dreadfully when I move on from Sony phones.

One of the smoothest Android phones out there, period. Sony knows its way around software optimization.

Similarly, I trust the speed and performance of the XZ2 in general. Other than a few blips, the Snapdragon 845 and 4GB RAM combo proved rock solid in my two weeks testing it, and the 64GB of storage proved ample. The 3,180mAh battery may seem small compared to others in its class, but Sony has always managed to pull off feats of pure magic when it comes to uptime, and that's no different here.

I don't recall a single day using the phone that it dropped below 30% before I went to sleep, and most days I managed to stay above 50%. Sony doesn't seem to be doing anything too fancy here, either — no Huawei-style app shaming — but whatever it's doing, it's working.

Finally, in the plus column, call quality was excellent and cellular speeds were similarly delicious — Sony worked with Bell in Canada to optimize the XZ2 for gigabit speeds, and it shows. I was regularly able to hit speeds above 200Mbps on Bell's network.

Sony Xperia XZ2 What needs work

There isn't a tremendous amount to complain about with the Xperia XZ2, but for all of the company's design prowess, the Xperia lacks a couple of major amenities that I've grown accustomed to having on similarly-priced (and cheaper) hardware. Yes, there's wireless charging and waterproofing, but the phone lacks face unlock, and the fingerprint sensor doesn't support navigation gestures. That's especially frustrating because the fingerprint sensor itself is way too low — in fact, the camera is where you'd expect the fingerprint sensor to be. Awkward.

It's also quite bulky, at over 11mm thick and 198 grams, which is reassuring from a quality perspective but onerous from a usability standpoint.

A few other frustrations muck up the experience, like disastrous rotation detection, which puts the phone in the wrong orientation literally every time it's placed on a surface. I've never wanted to throw my phone so often than when encountering this bug — I ended up turning off auto-rotate entirely.

Worse is the camera's complete inability to perform touch-exposure. This has a very obvious effect on photo output, as you have to "trust" the phone to pick the correct lighting values for a particular scene. Unfortunately, the phone is quite dumb, at least in this respect.

Let me give you an example: I'm in a relatively dark room with a bright light source — a window, or a bright lamp — and want to take a photo of something in the room. On practically every other phone, you can tap in the darker area to force the scene to re-expose, blowing out the ultra-bright area (so they go white) and leaving the rest of the scene looking properly lit.

With the Xperia XZ2, that's not possible, not even in manual mode (exasperatingly, there are five metering options, including touch metering, but none of them work at all). On a phone with aggressive HDR, this wouldn't be a problem, but the XZ2's HDR mode is too subtle when it's on, and there's no force-HDR mode in Superior Auto.

Finally, the phone is incredibly slippery. I have great reflexes, so I was able to catch it mid-air when, cradling it in my neck during a phone call, it vaseline-jumped from the crook of my neck. Disaster averted, but I immediately ordered a case, and it's like using a different phone entirely.

Sony Xperia XZ2 Should you buy it?

There are many, many good Android phones on the market right now. The Sony Xperia XZ2 is a very good phone, but it's not even close to being the best one you can buy. It's too thick and heavy, and despite a very attractive design, the minor distractions contribute to marring the whole experience.

Sony's focus on entertainment continues to be its strength; from a superlative display to incredible sound and a unique, gratifying vibration motor, there's plenty to like from a consumption perspective. Moreover, Sony's come a long way with its camera, though it's one or two software updates away from really competing with the Samsungs and Huaweis of the world.

There's also the question of Stateside availability. Unlike its smaller XZ2 Compact counterpart, the XZ2 doesn't work on Verizon, which significantly limits its attractiveness to the U.S. market. That means it's just AT&T and T-Mobile — something OnePlus 6 owners have to contend with, but there's a major price delta between the two phones. (In Canada, the phone is sold by Bell and Freedom Mobile, but thanks to Canada's recent rule change, it's unlocked out of the box and will work on every national carrier.)

Then it comes down to competitors: at $699 (which is a promotional price), the Xperia XZ2 offers a decent value proposition. At $799, it's not worth your time, especially with devices like the Galaxy S9 and LG G7 in the same ballpark, and the OnePlus 6 eating its lunch at $529.

3.5 out of 5

The Xperia XZ2 is Sony's best flagship ever, but as much effort as the company has spent catching up to the competition, it still feels a year behind.

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Daniel Bader was a former Android Central Editor-in-Chief and Executive Editor for iMore and Windows Central. 

35 Comments
  • Just as a heads up, the article has a picture of the U12+ instead of the XZ2.
  • Thanks for the clarification... I thought it was the U11+ lol.
  • I like the way Sony optimizes it's battery capacity. One of the best if not the best. This is a well rounded phone. No US carrier but now has the FPS on US models. I think this is a very good offering!
  • Personally I like a little heft and thickness in a phone. Not a fan of super thin.
  • This is a $500 phone at best.
  • Agreed, and I'd buy it right now at that. But I feel this way about all phones, I think they all are worth closer to $500. Getting crazy expensive
  • Not having face unlock as a con is interesting. I do generally agree about the XZ2, it's not really that fascinating to me. The XZ2 Compact is way more interesting.
  • Is anyone using the XZ2C on Verizon ? It's supposed to be compatible with Verizon Wireless' network.
  • I have considered trying it out but I saw a guy comment on PhoneArena that he uses his on there no problem. It has to be an active sim first, of course.
  • Yes, the xz2compact is compatible with Verizon. But their not selling it. That in itself makes no sense! Sony has always had problems with sales here in the US.
  • Daniel, thanks for calling out the marketing nonsense. "Upscaling" lower quality audio and claiming to end up with higher quality is one of the biggest loads of BS there is. Speaker quality is a good thing to have, and I prefer quality over loudness any day, which is also why I prefer other phones over the V30. One of the reasons there is no distortion on the Sony phone though, is because they cap volumes to avoid this. I agree with that logic, although a little headroom is nice for content with low audio volume. It is quite interesting that AC is making this device out to be an audiophile phone. Dynamic range, noise, and distortion are all worse than the Hi-Res certified DAC that HTC uses. Yet, AC has never referred to any of the U series as being for audiophiles, though they are better for audio than Sony, even without USonic. So what is Sony doing different from others that makes the phone so slippery? I know my glass-backed phone is crazy slippery on fabrics, but it clings to skin. It's the opposite from most metal phones, which are not slippery on fabrics, but slide out of the hand. For example, if I put a U11 and the iPhone 7 on a pillow, the U11 slides off. If I place them both on the palm of my hand, the iPhone will slide off as soon as I tilt my hand, while the U11 sticks and can be tilted without sliding. I can see the exception if someone's hands are very dry, but for normal skin, the U11 back clings nicely. I've spent the day using it outdoors in the rain without a case, and it always felt secure in the hand. Now sliding out of my pocket? That's another issue, lol. Anyways, good review, and thoughtful insight on the cameras.
  • I can forgive most of the issues but a poor camera (again) from Sony is unforgivable.
    How can a company that makes the A7 fail to use their vast experience?
    Not trying.
  • Have you read the article? Dan says it has a GOOD camera not a POOR camera.
  •  Nearly all phones can take GOOD pictures. " Worse is the camera's complete inability to perform touch-exposure. This has a very obvious effect on photo output, as you have to "trust" the phone to pick the correct lighting values for a particular scene. Unfortunately, the phone is quite dumb, at least in this respect." This is critical for me as it's the easiest way of getting correct exposure.
    Having looked at samples its exposure is poor too often.
  • I returned soley based on the fact that it didn't have VoLTE. The phone is solid other than that. I have to have VoLTE though. My wife kept telling me it sounded like I was calling her from a tin can. I'm awaiting the U12+ shipping email.
    C'mon hTc
  • I see no reason nor valid excuses to drop the 3.5mm jack on a 11mm thick phone.
  • Not unless they come up with something better, which Sony did not.
  • There is no valid excuse to drop the 3.5mm jack on an Android phone IMO. Sony didn't even really need to force the issue.
  • I had the phone for a week, purchased after being assured by both T-Mobile and Sony that it had been certified to use VoLTE and WiFi calling. Upon receiving, I learned that both companies had lied to me. It's a shame, really, since I loved most things about the phone (except for the annoying choice to lock the presence of the NFC indicator in the status bar). I'm loving the Pixel 2 I bought in its stead!
  • The phone obviously supports VoLTE. Almost every phone supports VoLTE these days. It has to be your provider compatibility I guess. The SD845 itself is enough proof...
  • Seems like they lost their identity and just want to go along with the trends instead of being their own brand. Very sad. Unfortunately here in North America most people won't give this a second look, much less know it's existence.
  • This phone is unattainable anyways...
  • Being a previous owner of the Z3 I cannot trust android central's reviews of Sony phones. The Z3 was much better than the Samsungs around at the time. It's performance was on another level, yet despite this, it reviewed terribly against the Samsung. I had both, and the samsung was a mess. Also, the order of the low light photos above is reversed for the upclose shots. It's not clear which is which.
  • It's well known that Android Central favors Samsung and Pixel. Some of their "Best" articles are amusing the way they push them.
  • Why it's so expensive this name. Sony?
    Can you please low-down the price of this Xperia phone.
    I really love and so much I like the Sony since when I was use Xperia almost 3 years ago. Xperia c4 dual, Xperia z3+ dual, and Xperia L2 this year.
    Thank you.,
  • Let's comment the negatives:
    Sony's camera app feels slow and dated -- newsflash, it's Android you can have any camera app you want.
    Lacks software niceties like face unlock and fingerprint gestures - if it's bad implemented like the others better not put it to look good in paper and to reviews play a bit in the 10 minutes they are with a phone. This is not a negative. is a positive.
    Phone is incredible, disastrously slippery -- it's not more slippery than the others glass phones. It's a glass phone you will have a case 100% of the time.
    Not available at U.S. carriers & no Verizon/Sprint support -- the world doesn't go around US, you know? US is 0.4% world population. This website and reviews you made are only for US citizens?
    It's very thick and heavy - true. I'm not a Sony fan, I have an Htc, but I hate bad "journalism" if I can call it that.... And the title is so bad in so many ways it hurts.
  • USA has 4% of the world's population. But I agree... a bit too US centric.... Most phones I've owned haven't been available from US carriers.... For the price.. it should have supported the calling the features the author wished for. Thick and Heavy is good. Loved that about my Lumia 920!! Overall, I think the review is a bit harsh... It seems to be a very well appointed phone. Good Camera. Absolute latest Processor/GPU combo. Decent memory. Street prices will be below $699 very quickly... such it is with the Sony phones.
  • Like most reviews this one compares the phone to its rivals.
    At the release price it is up against some very good phones and I think the comments reflect this.
    There will always be people who require different things from their phone and one person's negative could be another's positive.
    I like Sony as a brand but do get the impression phones are not their priority. I think they could build one of the very best if they felt the investment was worthwhile.
  • The funny thing is that the XZ2 has the bands to be used on Verizon LTE (all of them), but they didn't certify it, which is crap. Tired of all these non-Samsung, non-Apple (and also LG, Moto) options only working on AT&T and T-Mobile. and now I even see that T-Mobile VoLTE doesn't always work on some of these phones.
  • In software, it is far ahead of everyone but Google in updates and an inoffensive skin. Sony has all the tools to succeed, but messes up in some areas.
  • « the most capable low-light camera on the market, the Huawei P20 Pro » Uncropped, i found the XPeria better! The P20 Pro camera is really overrated « cradling it in my neck during a phone call » Honestly that’s quite a ‘dangerous ‘ position for any phone, like putting it on a back pocket... you are basically asking it to break!
  • They switched up the two pics, not sure which is which but I have the P20 Pro and there's no doubt P20 Pro's much better in low light.
  • Sony makes so many sensors for other OEM'S. But their own camera's barely crack the top 10. Makes no sense!
  • Good for you, the American media has replaced your brain and reasoning with something else... That is the 4000th time I's seeing that very comment. Guys, check youtube reviews and try it in life for once.
  • That's because nowadays photo quality is more dependent on software algorithms rather than hardware, hence why the Pixels have good cameras even though their hardware is unimpressive. Sony simply doesn't have the budget or talent when it comes to algorithms.